source: National Council of La Raza press release
Troubling Indicators Signal Need for Initiatives to Reduce Teenage Births and Youth Violence
San Juan -- Findings of an 18-month study on the status of children in Puerto Rico, released this week by the National Council of La Raza as part of its KIDS COUNT Puerto Rico Project, underscore the need for the island to reduce teenage births and curb violence against youth.
These findings are highlighted in a new report, 2004 KIDS COUNT Puerto Rico Data Book, which offers the first-ever and most comprehensive view to date of children in Puerto Rico and links their overall status to the island's future well-being.
"We can share both good and not-so-good news about children and youth in Puerto Rico. Indeed, the book's findings show that there are signs that key health trends are moving in the right direction," noted NCLR President Raul Yzaguirre.
Specifically, highlights of the study show that the percentage of low birth weight babies and the child mortality rate for children aged one to 14 years old have begun to decline since 1999. In particular, when compared with data for the 50 states, Puerto Rico has a child mortality rate similar to that of Maine, Maryland, and Oregon (21 per 100,000 children one to 14 years of age).
"We believe that public education efforts, programs that support children and families, and public policy that places children's issues high on the agenda will ensure that we will continue to see improvements in these areas," Yzaguirre said.
Yet, there are two specific sets of issues which are troubling for children and youth, he said.
First, while the trend since 1997 shows that the number of births to teenagers is declining, comparative data show that Puerto Rico has the highest birth rate to teenagers of all 50 states. In 2000, there were 49 births for every 1,000 15- to 17-year-old adolescent girls on the island, followed by Washington, DC and Mississippi, in which there were 48 and 44 births, respectively, for every 1,000 teenage girls in that age group. Culebra had the highest number of births to teenagers (123 per 1,000) followed by Barceloneta, with 103 per 1,000, while Camuy and Aguada were the municipalities with the lowest number of births to adolescents in this age group, 24 per 1,000 and 26 per 1,000, respectively.
"We know that children born to teenagers who are unprepared to care for them tend to face a range of health, education, and social problems. But we also know that programs like 'Proyecto Aurora in Camuy' can help provide educational and other opportunities to young people, to offer them guidance with their decisions and with their families," he said.
Second, one of the report's most alarming findings relates to youth deaths, particularly homicide, among adolescents. From 1990 to 2000, Puerto Rico lost 1,500 youth to homicide and 93% of these were male.
"These deaths represent not only a personal and tragic loss, but also a loss of talent and contributions by young people who were entering the prime of their lives, who should have been entering college and the workforce and preparing for new opportunities. We need collective efforts from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to reverse this trend and to protect children from violence," Yzaguirre said.
The analysis "which sets the groundwork for a series of data books on different issues facing children and youth on the island suggests that there is an immediate opportunity to begin to address some of these concerns.
"One of the best ways that lawmakers and others can demonstrate that children are a priority is to promote strategies that support accurate, reliable, and consistent data collection, in order to track progress, identify problems, and make timely and useful investments to strengthen the outlook for children in Puerto Rico," Yzaguirre suggested.
Availability of quality data from the Puerto Rico Department of Health facilitated the preparation of this data book and underscores how such data can be used to help Puerto Rico address pressing social and other concerns.
"Often children's issues don't get the attention they deserve, and this book demonstrates that part of the problem has to do with how well we can document what is happening. We also have an opportunity to showcase these issues and to raise their visibility, as political candidates shape elements of their policy agendas and discuss current social policy concerns," Yzaguirre concluded.
Click here to access the research report.
This research was funded, in part by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, through its support of NCLR's KIDS COUNT Puerto Rico Project, and by the UPS Foundation, through its support of the NCLR Scholar in Residence fellowship. We thank them for their support, but acknowledge that the findings and conclusions presented in this data book are those of the authors and NCLR alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of these funding sources, KIDS COUNT-Puerto Rico Advisory Committee Members, or others who contributed to the data book's completion.